What is the difference between a good review and a bad review?

There is an oft-used, extremely cliché phrase, “everyone is a critic”. That’s not my opinion. Criticizing something isn’t offering critique.

The question that has to be answered is, “What is critique?” I consider myself to be knowledgeable on this topic, and qualified to offer an informed opinion. I’ve studied how critical writing and strive to make use of the ideas I learned on this site. With my credentials lightly described, let’s begin with what a critique isn’t.

Statements that don’t offer any information are not critiques. Therefore, if someone says, “This is shit.” It isn’t a critique. It’s an insult. Critique, even harsh critique, needs to help the reader understand why something might be poor quality or high quality.

The preponderance of most people hurling abuse at creative works or creators generally isn’t constructive. It might be funny. On the internet scathing, shouty-caps screeds might generate laughs and clicks, but they often aren’t critiques.

Real critique is built out of several core elements. They don’t all have to be present in an equal capacity, but they should all be in every critique. They are components that make a piece of writing identifiable for what it is.

Those elements, in no particular order, are:

  • Description
  •  Analysis
  •  Interpretation
  •  Evaluation

Going back to the previous comment, “this is shit”, doesn’t fit the criteria. It’s appropriate for someone to say. It’s a legitimate opinion. However, it doesn’t fit the criteria of critique. At best, it falls under evaluation, but the audience walks away with nothing.

An insult draws attention to the speaker. It’s like saying, “Look how funny I am by being crass.” Yet, what does the audience learn? That the speaker can be rude? That’s not particularly useful. Real critique draws attention to the focus of the critique, not the person creating it.

For example, Slate published a review on March 30 titled, ‘The Dungeons & Dragons Movie Is As Stupid As the Game. That’s a Good Thing.’ This one toes the lines between good and bad reviews, but it veers off into unnecessary commentary.

There are references to Marvel that are not very positive,

Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, of the well-liked ensemble comedy Game Night, hurdle over the (admittedly not very high) bar set for contemporary action-comedy blockbuster filmmaking by Marvel Studios. 

Slate, Sam Thielman

If you’re not familiar, director Martin Scorsese and others from the entertainment world slammed the superhero genre of films. Thielman’s reference to that comment for Slate is just taking a cheap swipe at D&D. However, later in the article Thielman adds this,

Film is structured and unforgiving, while the joy of D&D comes from those unexpected dice-rolls that give our friends and enemies advantages and handicaps that fly in the face of the way they’ve played the game. The statistical description of an event might simply be that a player rolled a 20 and the Dungeon Master rolled a 1, but the story those two Gygaxian numbers tell is of a wounded bard, half dark elf, betrayed by his people and friendless on the edge of a volcano, letting fly a wild bolt from his crossbow with a scream of hopeless defiance only to see the bolt pierce the eye of the ice dragon bearing down on him and send it toppling, enraged, into the fatal lava below.

Slate, Sam Thielman

Does putting down D&D by lumping it in with Marvel’s films help the review? I would argue no, it doesn’t. Does being able to distinguish film and D&D help the review? Unequivocally, yes. These two poles in this review from Slate show how critique can be worthless and worthwhile.

It isn’t necessary to draw a negative comparison to interpretations of Marvel’s movies unless that’s where the reviewer wants the review to go. In this case, the review heads in the opposite direction, and tries to underline the messy fun that D&D, or any TTRPG, can be for the participants. Thielman links that the movie does a decent job at trying to capture that silliness, but in a backhanded kind of way.

In closing, a good review breaks something down to draw attention to its constituent parts. Each one can be described as warranted, evaluated, and finally, judged on its own merits. This is what good critique should strive to do because it is what will be the most beneficial to the reader.



, ,



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: